2017: Round 16/20, Japanese GP, Suzuka

HAMILTON SPARKLES, VETTEL SPARK-LESS

Further Ferrari frailty hands Hamilton huge points haul

1st     LEWIS HAMILTON      Mercedes
2nd    MAX VERSTAPPEN    Red Bull-TAG Heuer
3rd     DANIEL RICCIARDO   Red Bull-TAG Heuer

With Vettel alongside pole-sitter Hamilton, and warmer race-day conditions favouring Ferrari, expectations for an intense duel were high. Not for long, a faulty spark-plug causing Vettel to plummet to P6 then retire on lap 4. And with Räikkönen completing lap one P15 from a gearbox-penalised P10 start, it was left to Sepang winner Verstappen to once again challenge Hamilton for victory. Lewis’s first stint seemed comfortable enough, pulling out 5s on Max, but on lap 21 Red Bull went for the undercut. Although Mercedes responded instantly, Lewis rejoined from his own stop just 2s ahead, which shrank to a mere 1.1s on lap 27. Ironically, ‘dirty air’ from his teammate was slowing up Hamilton, Bottas yet to stop having used an offset tyre strategy to counteract a gearbox grid penalty. Once he let Lewis by, Valtteri held Max up for a couple of laps before peeling off into the pits, this appearing to end the Red Bull challenge. But in a final twist with four laps to go, a VSC period caused Hamilton’s tyres to ‘switch off’, but with the help of traffic he just managed to hold on by 1.211s for his eighth win this year. Ricciardo completed the podium, his race spoilt by a poor start that saw him trapped behind fast-starting Ocon, the Force India holding P3 for ten laps. On the faster rubber of his second stint, Bottas closed on Ricciardo but failed to snatch P3. Räikkönen recovered to P5, while Force India and Haas each scored double-points.
Incidentally…
Head scratching and cooler weather saw Mercedes’ performance recover from its perturbing Sepang slump. Hamilton’s first ever Suzuka pole set a new circuit record. Yet again for Ferrari a ‘must-win’ race went horribly awry, Hamilton now a massive 59 points clear of Vettel. Haas overhauled Renault in the Constructors’ table. From Austin Sainz will replace Palmer at Renault, but in his final race for Toro Rosso, Carlos spun out on lap 1.

The Championship Chase
Hamilton 306, Vettel 247, Bottas 234, Ricciardo 192, Räikkönen 148
Mercedes 540, Ferrari 395, Red Bull 303, Force India 147, Williams 66

RS
Formula 1 All the Races